Why You Can't (Yet) Create High-Quality Content
You are not stupid. You just don't know how to get your genius ideas out into the world.
«I have a lot to say, but I can’t find the right words to convey what I mean»
«It’s like I have a black cloud over my head. I am paralyzed and can’t write anything down.»
«I am not nearly as good as most of the authors out there…»
Does this sound familiar? It sure does for me and for most of my creative friends.
I’ve been thinking – a lot – about what makes great content creators great.
Why can some people say what they think, or come up with a good piece in 20 minutes, while others need a week to get it right?
Why do some – not necessarily smarter people – sound confident in their writing, while the real experts – the ones you can really learn from – feel terrified to hit ‘Publish’?
And most importantly, how do you start writing so that people actually stop and read?
Writing and content creation, in general, is a skill. It can be taught.
To say something, you need to have something inside of you. If you do, all else is a mere technical problem. And like any technical problem, it can be solved.
Let’s Make Your Content Great Again
What makes content great?
Here’s what I came to realize recently: great content is honest content.
When you read a compelling piece of writing that you like, you like it because you believe it. It doesn’t have to be the truth (like in fiction), but it has to be believable. Something about it has to be so honest – even if it’s the tiny details – that makes the whole product convincing and worthwhile to read in the first place. Then you don’t feel robbed of time and attention and say, «Oh, that was good.»
But here’s the catch: when I say «honest», you’re probably thinking back to the oldest advice to content creators in the book: «be vulnerable.» They say, «share what’s uncomfortable», and most writers listen. They tell you that’s what will make the reader resonate. They lie.
Honesty is not about sharing with the world what color your panties are. It might be uncomfortable for you to share that, but nobody cares.
To make somebody care, you need to say what you actually think. Honesty is about building a straight tunnel between your subconscious (the genius part of you) and the outer world. It’s about getting all of your hidden ideas out there.
It’s about building an «idea tube».
How The Content Creation Process Works
You have a bag inside your head. That bag is filled with ideas.
Here’s how it looks like.
(Let’s just ignore my drawing skills, shall we?)
When you start creating content – whether it’s writing a blog, on Medium, creating YouTube videos, writing books, or recording podcasts – you start building a tube from that bag, by which ideas can travel. It’s like a bridge.
(I know this starts getting awkward, but please bear with me. I have a point to make.)
When you’re just starting out, that bridge – the tube – is quite narrow. Not all ideas can get through. And if the idea is quite large, only little chunks of it can go through.
Hence, instead of writing a compelling blog post – like you imagined you would – you end up writing a shitty one. You don’t make all the points you wanted to make, and the idea comes out choppy and unconvincing.
Your novel ends up being worse than you imagined. Your song sucks. And your business – the one you imagined dominating the market – ends up selling only to a narrow group of early adopters.
Our «idea tube». It’s not wide enough for the big, compelling, groundbreaking ideas that we’ve got to pass through.
But not all is lost. As you keep creating content, your idea tube starts to widen and it becomes easier and easier for the big, meaty ideas to pass through.
Now the big ideas can get through, and your novel – the one that sucked in the beginning – is actually compelling, just as you envisioned in your head.
This is what happens to most professional authors, bloggers, and content creators after years of working on their craft. Their «tube» widens enough for their big ideas to pass through, and their content becomes great as a result. Like a baby coming out of a womb.
The obvious question: how do you speed up this process of idea birth?
How do you widen the tube quickly, and not to wait for the gray hair to show up until you make something valuable in the world?
I am glad you asked. But first, let’s consider the «gap» that Ira Glass (a famous American radio personality and host of This American Life NPR’s show) so famously talks about.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.
For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.
And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.
And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
The «gap» that Ira is referring to – is the gap between the great ideas in your head (what you imagine your end product would be) – Ira calls this your taste – and what actually comes out.
You look at Seth Godin, and you’re not as good as him with your book.
You look at Shane Parrish, and you can’t create the high-quality podcast content as he does.
You look at everybody around you, and they all seem to be doing a better job than you are.
How do you bridge the gap?
Do a Lot Of Work
I know, I know. This is not what you wanted to hear. You signed up for this newsletter in hopes that you’d get a lifehack, a secret, a pill – something that would make your creative life easier. But like Winston Churchill, I have nothing to offer but the truth. Nothing, but sweat, toil, and tears.
It’s only by doing a lot of work, by «putting yourself on a deadline,» as Ira suggests, and by pushing your big ideas out of your «idea bag» out into the world, that you’ll be able to widen your «tube».
The content output is a skill.
To write better, write every single day.
To create better podcasts, record a show each week.
To build businesses, create companies – and fail. A lot.
What makes it art – is the genius content already inside of you. And I doubt that it can be taught. It’s either there or it isn’t. And something tells me that if you’re reading this, the genius is inside of you already.
People who are creating low-quality content are not stupid. They are just beginners. They just haven’t learned how to get their genius ideas out there. Their «bag» is full of ideas, but their «tube» is just too narrow for them to pass through.
So – do a lot of work. Widen the tube. Make it as wide as you can, so that all of your ideas – even the Empire State Building-size ones – get through. It might be scary at first, but nobody said creating art is easy.
If content creation is your thing, commit to consistent content creation. Build a daily habit. You don’t have to publish every single day, but you definitely have to spend 2-3 hours of «deep work» doing it every single day.
Stephen King writes 2,000 words every single day: on his birthday, on the 4th of July and on Christmas. It takes him about 2 hours to do so each day. What does he do the other 22 hours? He prepares himself to perform tomorrow.
Just keep working.
Next week, we’ll talk about effective strategies on how to keep creating a lot of content daily and not quit too early.
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